Archives for posts with tag: advice

‘Talking shop’ has probably never had a pleasant connotation. Think of those people who can’t let work go at non-work events; or situations or organisations where lots of talking takes place but no decision is ever made and nothing gets done.  Talking shop or “professional conversation“, to give it a more scholarly gloss, is an invaluable – and often overlooked – source of learning and development in our careers.

Um picture

A little preparation can make conversations more constructive and less awkward. Photo: M. Gillie, Port of Hull.

Conversation is a little like breathing –  so involuntary, so necessary to life that we usually never stop to think about it. Take a moment now to reflect on an unplanned professional conversation you’ve had with someone in your department recently – a grabbing-a-coffee, caught-in-corridor or standing-in-the-photocopier queue chat.

Who was it with? What was the topic? Which of you introduced it? Did it involve a story with a critical incident*? Does anything stand out in terms of the language used, emotions expressed (or held back), tone of voice? What was the balance of listening, speaking and questioning between you and your colleague? Were there any digressions or changes of subject? What were the implications of these? Looking back, do you think the conversation had an impact on your thoughts about the topic? Do you think there were missed opportunities to learn something or help your colleague to learn?

Conversational analysis has a formal, rigorous research methodology of its own; these questions are simply to stimulate reflective thinking about how professional conversation fits into your working and learning life. For those in mentoring or management roles, becoming more reflective and self-aware of professional conversation can support and strengthen these relationships – helping others to become better at learning from ‘talking shop’.

To find out more about having better more effective conversations at work, start with these:

Vitae (2015) A brief guide to career conversations with research staff. (seeing it from your supervisor’s/PI’s/mentor’s point of view a can help you become better at managing conversations, too).

Haigh, N. (2006) Every day conversation as a context for professional learning and development.  International Journal for Academic Development.10 (1), 3-16.

Hirsch, W., Jackson, C. and Kidd, J.M. (2012) Straight talking: Effective career discussions at work. CRAC.

Sarangi, S. and Roberts, C. (1999) Talk, work and institutional order: discourse in medical, mediation and management settings. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

*This page is due to be replaced soon, but it’s probably the most helpful definition of a critical incident I’ve ever come across:

My work in designing mentoring programmes naturally covers mentor ‘training’. I’ve been at it again this morning, meeting one of my groups incoming onto the September to March Researcher Mentoring Programme.

Actually I prefer to say mentor development, because training is too directive a notion to be a good way of describing how we use workshops to get to grips with the practices of mentoring — which is itself a very non-directive activity. As with all types of learning & teaching, there’s not a ‘right way’ to do mentoring, each mentor chooses their own approach, style and practices, and applies them in different situations and contexts. Read the rest of this entry »

As the Bank Holiday Monday approached I wondered how I would spend this wonderful free extra ‘me’ time.  I had to stop to think about it as the week before my son came home on leave from the army and found himself with a day free and said he didn’t know how to spend it. It didn’t happen that often and it was a problem! In the end he came round to our house and played some old video games with his sister and they both really enjoyed it. They laughed and chatted and remembered old times. Perhaps that is one idea, to take time out to reconnect and do things that make us happy with people we care about. Read the rest of this entry »

ERS_Logo_12_bI attended the Engineering Researcher Symposium last Friday (30 June 2017) and the message that came across to me, was that often collaboration isn’t about having a research idea and then looking for collaborators, but rather it can be by talking to others, that ideas for collaboration come about. Read the rest of this entry »

Who’s writing their thesis? 

Come on, who is writing? It’s my view, and the view of a lot of scholars who study writing in the doctoral degree, that everyone should have said yes to that question. See this assertion from  Barbara Kamler & Pat Thomson, taken from their 2014 book, ‘Helping Doctoral Students Write: Pedagogies for supervision’:


Read the rest of this entry »

Dear doctoral supervisor,

“I was blissfully unaware how long it would take me to write up. To be honest I would have preferred a more clear marker from my supervisor, or from the department, saying stop doing experiments now and write! I was expecting someone to say when I had enough data, because I never felt I did, so instead I kept going much longer than I needed in the lab because I didn’t know how much was enough. I feel pretty annoyed about that.”

FullSizeRender.jpgIt’s 246 days ‪until the 31st of October. I mention this date as we have around 1100 third year doctoral students whose theses are due on that date*. With 8 months to go, now is a perfect time to make sure that your thesis writers know it’s time to spend some time each week — an hour a day, every day? — writing. Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s get one thing clear – I’m not saying everyone needs to do a placement or an internship. In fact I’m writing this to stress that there is more to work experience than a 3 month placement – a placement may not be what you need at all. For researchers, whether PhD student or research staff, a placement may not be practical, possible or preferable.

Read the rest of this entry »

For a festival of peace and goodwill it seems to manage to create a lot of stress and hardship. So how can you ensure you enjoy the festive season rather than feeling like you’ve been ‘sleighed’! As always we are concerned about researcher wellbeing,  so here are some tips for you> All obvious? So how come you don’t do them!

Winter tiredness

Shorter days provwinter-tirednesside us with less daylight hours and your brain produces more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy. We often have to keep going but we need to accept we will slow down over winter. To help keep your energy levels up try to eat regular meals/healthy snacks every three to four hours, rather than large meals. Regular exercise can give you an energy boost and make you feel less tired. Read the rest of this entry »


I must admit that I ummed and ahhed about posting this entry. For a start, I’m still in pretty deep denial about it already being September, and the fact that the new academic year is about to begin; and, for another thing, I’ve touched on my approach to resolutions and goal-setting before in this blog, and I was conscious that I could be about to repeat or, maybe, entirely contradict that post. But, actually, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about my New (academic) Year’s resolutions, and, from talking to other colleagues and researchers, I’m not alone. Read the rest of this entry »

As the build up increases to the Paralympics, Channel 4 have launched a trailer called, ‘We’re the Superhumans’ which is receiving a lot of positive press and has even been described as the “best TV trailer ever”. It is great in so many ways; uplifting, insightful, educational and inspiring, it really shows what people can achieve. But one aspect of it left me feeling very frustrated. Throughout the trailer people are singing, saying or signing the words “yes I can” but at 2 minutes 15 seconds the shot goes to an office with a ‘careers’ sign on the door and a man is his 50s, wearing a grey suit, is talking to a schoolboy who is a wheelchair user and saying, “no you can’t”. It only lasts a couple of seconds and then returns to the previous, positivity but the message is very clear. Careers advisers will tell you what to do, or more likely, what you can’t do, they’ll judge you and will ultimately trample all over your dreams and aspirations. Don’t take my word for it, have a look yourself. But do come back and read the rest of this post! Read the rest of this entry »